#40daysofprayer We want to continue prayers beyond the 40 days! Here is how you may pray for Algeria. http://ow.ly/4nfR80
#40daysofprayer We are at the end of the commitment…but not of the prayers! See how you can pray for Libya. http://ow.ly/4nfQIk
Want to learn more about how to be a great sending church? Check out “As You Are Sending” on our website. http://ow.ly/KNuVX
Join us as we honor Bob and Myrt Davidson, long-term missionaries in Asia and leaders of “Aggies for Christ,” at our upcoming dinner, 4/17.
Want to learn about a rapidly growing disciple-making movement? Come to our DFW Missions Benefit Dinner – April 17! http://www.MRN-RSVP.org
Whether you are a parent sending your child far away, the child of God who has received the call to go, or a part of the sending church, responding to the call of God to engage the mission of God changes our hearts and our perspectives forever. No one walks away unaffected. This is a call to faith! In Gen. 12 when God called Abram, the text simply says,
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.2 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. 3 I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” 4 So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Haran. 5 He took his wife, Sarai, …
Have you ever wanted to be a fly on the wall, just to listen in? I have often wondered how that conversation went!
“Sarai, let’s get packed. We are moving!”
“So, like, where are we going?”
“I don’t know! He didn’t tell me that part!”
“He? He, who?”
“You know! HE! As in God!”
“So… God told you we are moving – and He hasn’t told you where!?”
“How far is it?”
“Don’t know! He just said, ‘I will show you!’”
“Is there drinking water and flush toilets?”
“Well, at least there will be water!”
“So… when are we coming back?”
“I get the impression, that’s not going to happen! BUT He did promise we will be blessed and we will be a blessing, to all the families on the whole earth!”
Sarai: “We better get packed!”
The Hebrew writer sums it up, Heb. 11:
8 It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. 9 And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents.
Did you get that? When you follow the call of God, on the mission of God, life gets intense! Not just living in tents, but intense living, because of living by faith. One thing we can predict for anyone who has been open to the call of God is that life will get intense! Living like a foreigner, that is life in the mission of God! Hebrews continues:
11 It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise. 12 And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.
When we stand with those who are being sent, we can’t help but wonder just how many families will be blessed because of that willingness to answer the call of God! The call of God into the mission of God also requires us to live with open hands! Picture what it was like for Abraham to hear God’s voice again in Gen. 22. It may feel strange, but please open your hands as you read these words.
Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called.
“Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”
2 “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”
Abraham had heard that before, “which I will show you!” Just a side note, Jewish believers refer to this story as “The binding of Isaac.” Again, cause for faith and open hands!
3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about.4 On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.5 “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”
This time we are privy to the conversation in the story:
6 So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, 7 Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
“We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
8 “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.
9 When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood.
I can’t imagine how Abraham had the faith for the next step!
10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”
12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”
13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”
15 Then the angel of the Lord called again to Abraham from heaven. 16 “This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that 17 I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore.
Can you picture the “open handed faith of Abraham” that God is calling each of us to have when we let go of loved ones in our physical or spiritual families to respond to Him? We see this kind of open-handed faith in parents of missionaries, as they say, “I don’t enjoy or even understand that you have to go so far away to follow the call of God, but through the eyes of faith I can already see sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters I will greet in heaven later, because you go now.” Remember: “Yahweh-Yireh!” The LORD will provide! Picture this barren woman, Hannah, as she prayed so hard in 1 Sam. 1 that she might have a son, that Eli thought she was drunk! Remember her appeal in 1 Samuel 1:
10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. 11 And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”
After Samuel [“heard by God” or “asked of God”] was born as an answer to prayer, was weaned, and while he was still a small boy, Hannah kept her word, opened her hands and gave the boy to the service of God. May our faith teach us to sing, “I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open!” (from Climb by Will Reagan) May Hannah’s prayer in 1 Sam. 2 be an example for all of us to live open-handed and expectantly:
“My heart rejoices in the Lord! The Lord has made me strong. Now I have an answer for my enemies; I rejoice because you rescued me. 2 No one is holy like the Lord! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.”
The Mission is Not Ours; It’s God’s – Part 2
Well, let’s begin this part by checking who’s in charge of the mission. Consider this quick survey of the story of God’s mission in the world.
To Abram, leave your land and go to a land I will show you.
Jesus, to his disciples, Come and follow me and I will make you fishers of men
To the Antioch church, Set aside Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.
Moses, so now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.
Gideon, go in the strength that you have. Am I not sending you?
Samuel, I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen a king.
Isaiah, Whom shall I send and who will go for us? Go and tell this people …
Jonah, go to the great city of Nineveh and preach.
Jesus, to his disciples: “pray the Lord of Harvest to send out laborers …
Jesus to his disciples, Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
Jesus to his disciples, Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations …
Peter, get up and go … with them for I have sent them …
Phillip, go south to the road from Jerusalem to Gaza … to the Ethiopian
Ananias, go to the house of Judas, to Saul of Tarsus. Go, this is my chosen instrument to the Gentiles.
Adam, you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Noah, make yourself an ark of cypress wood
Abraham, take your only son and sacrifice him as a burnt offering
Joshua, have I not commanded you?
Jacob, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.
Joshua, Do not be terrified or discouraged, I will be with you.
Disciples, Be assured, I with you always, to the very end of the age.
Apparently, it is God who has the authority to give the commands, to make the calls, to send people out on mission and to make the critical promises that keep them going.
But note that in each example above God engages people; He doesn’t act alone. With all their doubts, frailties and misconceptions, He patiently works with them. He calls them, gives them instructions and directions. Then He encourages them with affirmation of His power and promises of his presence as they follow His lead in the mission.
And so, it does become ‘our’ mission as long as we recognize Him as the Designer and Definer of it.
God’s mission is to be shared by His bride, the church. The church is God’s agency, as it were, to bring God’s reign, the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven. This means that being on mission with God is an imperative for God’s people, all God’s people. God calls all the church to engage the world starting with me and starting with you.
And while we are about it, let’s rid our thinking and our language of the false dichotomy of missions being ‘over there,’ and ministry being benevolence or whatever we do locally. Salvation is a journey that begins in the heart of faith, continues through baptism to transformation into a Jesus-imitating life that flows out the door to a waiting world. That life is a witness to hope, joy, love and peace that so much of the world hungers for.
So … what does all this mean for mission and missions? It means that missions must be based on God’s eternal values and purposes, not on the values of a particular people, or their particular culture at a given time in their history. What we need to see from this is that mission is not our possession, but we do belong.
Last year I made a keynote presentation at the Africans Claiming Africa for Christ Conference in Lusaka, Zambia. A colleague encouraged me to adapt that presentation into a series of blog posts. I will call this series, “Extreme Makeover in World Missions.”
The Mission is Not Ours; It’s God’s – Part 1
It seems to me that the people of God tend to cycle through a revolving pattern from a relatively clear understanding of God as the source, the power and center of mission to a point where we think it really is all about us, our vision, our strategies, our plans, our gifts, our resources, our power and our control. From time to time we, as the people of God, need to revisit and retune our understanding of mission, of God’s purposes in and for what He has created.
We must start at the beginning. In the beginning, God …
What we call mission has its source in God. Mission flows out of God. It reflects who He is, His very nature. It reflects what He cares about and what His intents and purposes are in regard to His Creation. Genesis chapters 1-3 show us the creativity of God and what He cares about. They show us the consequences of disregarding who God is and what He cares about in favor of our own desires.
Some of the insights we learn from Genesis 1-3 are 1) God was pleased with what He created. 2) God put man in charge of His creation and gave him the responsibility of caring for it. 3) God articulated the covenant between Himself and the man He created. 4) The human desire for knowledge replaced relationship with God as the highest value. 5) When the man and woman broke the covenant with God, they ruined their relationship with God. 6) But God wasn’t content to leave things that way; He took the initiative to find the man and the woman who were hiding in shame. 7) Breaking God’s covenant resulted in banishment from the garden and from fellowship with God. 8) Since that time, God has been seeking to restore that broken relationship and all of the consequences that resulted from it.
As I see it, the first three chapters of Genesis are a synopsis, a glimpse of the whole need and purpose of mission.
What I learn about God from this section of Scripture is that God is creative, and God desires to do His work with people. He could do it all and do it better, but He doesn’t want to work alone. God involves people in what He does and delegates responsibility to them. God takes relationships seriously. He is a God of covenant. He is faithful to covenants and expects faithfulness among covenant partners; God is not an ‘equal’ partner in the covenants He makes. God is God and He expects faithful obedience of His commands from other covenant partners. When covenants are broken there are dire consequences. But God doesn’t give up on broken relationships. Even after the man and the woman broke covenant, God still showed His concern for them. He gave them names and made clothes to cover their shame. God is a God on mission and He is disappointed but not deterred by human unfaithfulness.
So what does all this mean for man and missions. Is it all about God and nothing about us? The short answer is that, “Mission is all about God and we are invited to have a part in it if and when we recognize that it is all about God.”
In Part 2, we will unpack this a little more …
Missionaries have their stories and they want to share them, but as one missionary reported, “After two minutes, people get this ‘deer in the headlights’ look and they interrupt my story with ‘how about them cowboys?’” Listening is important.
Many missionaries are burdened, stressed and near burn-out. Giving day after day after day depletes them and depletion can lead them into just going through the motions. Returned missionaries feel acutely a lack of connection with others of like mind. Some feel abandoned, maligned and misunderstood. Often there is no ‘due process’ available to missionaries. Debriefing, with concerned listeners can defuse anger and bitterness. Negative thought patterns can be changed to a more positive view on life. Conflict can be managed. Feeling alone is changed to feeling closer to God and to the listener. It is an opportunity to experience God’s healing, to remember their identity in Christ and a time to recognize again that nothing can separate them from the love of God.
Telling their story is not the time for a pity party; it is a time for the missionary to face their experiences, criticisms, conflict and crises, their feelings of loss, fear and uncertainty, as well as their joys and successes. As they reflect back on their experiences, the question, “what have I learned?” needs to be answered. What use is it to reiterate life events if there is no learning?
Learning is a discovery process. Experiences alone do not equate to learning. Learning involves paying attention to circumstances; missionaries need to observe and critically reflect on their lives. Not only must the missionary be able to name their experiences and their feelings, they must spend some time thinking and processing them. Learning involves asking themselves four questions: 1) Why? 2) What if? 3) What? and 4) How?
Usually missionaries go to the field full of theories and return full of experiences. Learning requires both. It is only when our experiences have been transformed into knowledge and our theories have been tested by experience, that anyone can say, ‘I know.’ This means that through the story-telling process, missionaries need opportunities to describe specific circumstances they have experienced; reflect on those circumstances by reporting on their thoughts, attitudes and observations; express their observations and reflections and report on the ‘rules’ they have formed about life and missions; and finally, how they have applied their learning in other situations. Otherwise, mistakes made once will be repeated again and again until learning has occurred.
Regardless of the ups and downs of missions, the successes and failures, when learning occurs, no one can be considered a failure. Missionaries gain wisdom when they make sense out of their experiences by examining their thoughts and feelings and by applying the principles they have discovered and sharing them with others. Telling their stories to someone who has is able to listen and who can help the missionary process the Why, What if, What and How encourage learning. Learning implies becoming more effective as a missionary and as a person. Sometimes it is exactly what some need to be made whole again.
I have the blessing of working with churches that are seeking to be on mission with God, and there are four questions which are important to always keep before us. They should be asked by all followers of Jesus, and Christian communities who want to join God in His work here.
I was assisting a group of elders and ministers from a congregation and they had gathered college professors and leaders in order to gain insight on the value of two new ministries they planned to launch. They did not want to start both at the same time and were asking advice on which would be the most beneficial for their church. One quiet, reflective college professor boldly stated, “Before you answer which ministry to begin, I think you need to ask yourself whether your church has a reason to exist!” Needless to say, most were confused and a bit shocked – they simply did not understand. The way he worded the statement almost sounded as if the college professor believed this particular church should close its doors. Perhaps that was the point he was trying to make, but I don’t think so. Most did not understand the statement and went on to more “productive and practical discussions.” As I think back to this encounter, I see that the statement might not have been well worded and most certainly was not well received; however, it did point the group to the right question.
As a follower of Jesus, the first question we must ask is why do we exist? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Generally, when Christians are asked, “what is your goal in life” the typical answer is “I want to make it to heaven!” I have answered the question in the same way, but that now seems to be incredibly short-sighted. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly want to be in heaven with Jesus and the rest of you! However, I don’t think that should be my ultimate goal or even the answer to the question of why I exist. God’s word seems to make it clear that our reason for existence is to glorify God. Paul keeps repeating this clearly in Ephesians, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11, 12 ESV). Jesus tells you who you are in Him. You are the salt and the light of the world and are to let your good works be seen by men “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV).
This life of being salt and light is not just something to hold on to until we can make it to heaven. If I am merely waiting for that, why not just “beam me up, Scotty” after I put my faith in Jesus and became united with him in baptism? What is the reason for my existence between the beginning of my faith and the return of Jesus to take me to be with Him? The answer is found in what some call The Great Interchange. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). Jesus became what we are, in order that we might become what He is. Our desire is to be more like Jesus today than we were yesterday. As Paul compared our life in Christ with that of Moses being in the presence of God he declared, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV). As we grow in our understanding of God’s call in our life, we realize that our reason for existence means giving glory to God and being transformed into the image of His Son. This also becomes our motivation for ministry, to see Christ formed in the life of others. Paul shared his heart for the churches in Galatia, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19, NIV). The words resonate with truth, “until Christ is formed in you.” So, we are to glorify God, become like Jesus and help others do the same.
I mentioned that there are four questions we should constantly address as children of God and as communities of faith. Perhaps you are curious about the other three questions. Churches should ask themselves: 1) Why do we exist? 2) What values (core beliefs) are driving us? 3) Where do we envision God leading us? and 4) What steps do we need to take in order to join God in this journey? The last three questions are for another discussion; however, before we move on too quickly, it is imperative that we wrestle with the answer to the first question. Do you know why you are here?